After being kicked out last year, the food trucks are returning to the Porch at 30th Street.
The University City District, which manages the Porch, has issued a request for proposals, asking members of the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association to apply to vend on Mondays through Fridays from April through October of this year. Per the schedule outlined in the RFP, two trucks a day will offer lunch service (11:30 am to 2:30 pm), and one truck a day will set up for breakfast service (7 to 9:30 am).
According to Andrew Stober, who joined the UCD as vice president of planning and economic development in January, “there’s also the possibility of bringing in a dinner truck, along with beverage options, and maybe even some retail.”
It’s a return to variety for the plaza outside 30th Street Station, which in 2015 switched from a rotating cast of mobile trucks to one single vendor — a parked rotisserie truck and alcohol-serving beverage trailer run by restaurateur Michael Schulson (Sampan, Double Knot, Indepdendence Beer Garden, Izakaya at Borgata).
The move rankled many food truck operators, who saw themselves as having helped popularize the unorthodox outdoor space.
“I’m disappointed,” Josh Kim, the proprietor of Spot Gourmet Burgers, told Billy Penn at the time.
By way of explanation, University City District officials last year told Philly.com that the new partnership had several benefits. One was charity: A portion of the revenue from Schulson’s rotisserie and beer cart would be earmarked for the job-creating West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Another was beautification: Groundswell Design Group, which worked with Schulson on creating the impressive beer garden across from the Liberty Bell, would add new landscaping and lighting to the plaza.
And so it happened. New seating and tables were installed, the rotisserie truck served food and poured drinks, and the 2015 season went on without the food trucks. It was no small blow for an industry that struggles to find legitimate business, according to PMFA president Rob Mitchell, who owns Cow and the Curd.
“In Philly, we really hurt for day-to-day vending spots,” he says. “I was just down at a conference in DC, and there, around 75 percent of mobile vendors’ business is predicated on setting up in day-to-day lots. Here, we have to rely on festivals and special events. Getting the Porch back as an option for our members is huge.”
The southern apron of the historic train station was first redesigned from a parking lot into a public gathering space in late 2011, and mobile food vendors showed up there as part of the weekly farmer’s market during summer 2012. They were so successful that the food truck schedule was expanded to twice a week for the 2013 season, and then to every day, Monday through Friday, in 2014. Then 2015 rolled around, and the trucks were booted out.
So why the switch back this year? According to Schulson, when his contract at the Porch ended at the close of the 2015 season, he decided not to renew it in order to focus on other ventures. (Double Knot, a combination sushi house and coffee shop, opened last month, and Harp & Crown, a casual American bar and restaurant with a private bowling lane inside, is slated to launch this summer.)
And per Stober, the ethos of the Porch has always been about trying new things, including the experiment of using just a single food vendor. “Nothing is permanent at the Porch — that’s the whole point!”
He’s excited for the variety of vendors to return. “I expect all the small businesses vending there will be happy with it,” he says, “and also that the customers will be happy with it. With all the new construction in the area, there will be more people than ever taking advantage of the beautiful outdoor space.”